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Students reflect on 'Living Mercy' experiences

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Shannon Holley with refugee families

Sometimes Mercyhurst students set out deliberately to offer service, here or abroad.

Just as often, students find opportunities to connect with those in need and show true mercy in surprising places.

It’s called “Living Mercy,” the theme for a special event during the university’s annual Mercy Week observance March 6-11. Several student groups will reflect on their own varied experiences “Living Mercy” during a luncheon open to the whole Mercyhurst community.

‘Hurst students who toured Italy and Greece during January will talk about befriending a group of Syrian refugees during their final stop in Athens.

Dr. Richard McCarty, associate professor of religious studies, says they found themselves sharing their modest urban hotel with a dozen or so people of all ages who appeared to be permanent guests.

When he offered a box of cookies to the children, the gesture led to conversation with the adults and he learned they were refugees, families from Syria, Iraq and Yemen, both Christian and Muslim, who had joined forces along the road. Stranded in Greece, they were receiving basic services from the government, but hoping to move on to Poland.

“The natural question anyone would ask is ‘How can we help them?’” McCarty says. “But I think the experience of mercy our kids get here really shined through.”

One group of students purchased books, blocks and craft materials for the children, who had no toys and little to do. When others returned from a day trip, they donated extra euros they’d otherwise have converted back to dollars, clothes they could do without, and more.

“The families were truly moved by our help,” McCarty says.

The ‘Hurst travelers connected on a personal level, too. On their final night at the hotel, the whole Mercyhurst group gathered in the lobby and the refugee children joined them for an evening full of singing American songs and improvising simple games.

“It’s all part of our Mercy tradition,” McCarty says. “Embodying service and generosity – not pity. Overcoming stereotypes and seeing each other as real human beings.”

Shannon Holley, 20, a music education major from Pittsburgh, recalls being brought to tears by two of the youngsters who insisted on giving her bracelets they had made using their arts and crafts materials. She says she was amazed by how much the small gifts had affected these people. She describes the experience as “the best day of my life.”

McCarty has stayed in touch with several of the adults through social media. He says at last contact they were still living in that Athens hotel.

During the Living Mercy event, other students will tell their own powerful stories of a service trip to Guyana, a visit to the Mercy International Center in Dublin to film a documentary about the Sisters of Mercy, and a research project examining the causes of violence in Erie.

Mercy Week is organized by the university’s Mission Committee to remind both students and employees that Mercyhurst’s rich Mercy tradition is not just history, but is alive and active across the campus.

Also planned during Mercy Week:

  • A Mass and Brunch for student Ambassadors at the Sisters of Mercy Motherhouse

  • A discussion on Catholic Social Teaching by Chaplain Fr. Jim Piszker for employees in the Mercy Emissary Program

  • “Encourage an Employee” Day

  • A Busy Person’s Retreat

  • A Lenten Eucharistic Holy Hour with the Sacrament of Reconciliation

  • The blessing of a symbolic Door of Mercy

  • The opportunity to walk and meditate on a labyrinth

  • A two-day Interfaith Service Immersion Project